“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4
REAL LIFE: It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m finally back at the desk in my study. Our vacation was brief, but refreshing and empowering – a bonafide mountaintop experience. Time away with Rebekah is always a treat, but I have to say that I love my work, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this week of writing will bring.
Now we’re back in the day-to-day reality of “regular life,” I’m reminded of a story from a retreat Rebekah and I attended, organized by the Norman Vincent Peale foundation in New York.
A young Madison Avenue executive came to Peale’s church, met Jesus, and became filled with excitement over his new life. Each week he showed up to the “young professionals” Sunday-school class with a new mountaintop story that illustrated his nascent faith. He was insufferably joyful.
Then, one weekend, the shiny new Christian walked in with a downcast expression, plonked down in his usual place, and projected gloom. After several minutes of working hard to look as dejected as possible he finally caught the leaders eye and was invited to “share.”
“It’s been three months since I accepted Christ,” he said. “I’ve never known such happiness and peace. Then this week it seems like nothing has gone right; I’ve been miserable. Work has been full of stress; I’ve prayed but my heart still feels empty; I think my girlfriend may be breaking up with me; I’ve had this terrible head cold; I’ve tried listening to Christian music but I’m just not feeling it; it seems I’ve run out of joy…”
He looked around, waiting for someone to offer him some magical cure.
“Is there something wrong with me?” he said. “Does anyone else ever feel this way?”
Finally, after exchanging glances, shaking heads, and trying not to smile, one of women leaned in the young man’s direction, looked him square in the eyes, and said, “Welcome to the valley where the rest of us live…”
We don’t live on the mountaintop. Oh, I visit there a lot, but we always come back to the valley because this is where real life happens. The measure of faith isn’t how much time we can spend hanging out in the stratosphere, breathing the rarefied air of the holy of holies, it’s what we do with the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day, and being able to acknowledge the presence of the one who promises to be with us – friend and guide – no matter what.
So yesterday evening, having returned from the mountain, I walked into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee; and as I did I felt a profound sense of contentment, peace, and happiness. Of course, being a philosopher, the moment gave me pause and so I stopped to think about it.
What I discovered was simple. All I had done was to stop – a momentary “pause” – and absorb the evidence of that moment. I had entered the kitchen (which I had finished cleaning ten minutes earlier), and simply noted the fact of a clean space and a fresh pot of coffee. That’s all. Nothing profound.
While in that moment I had – very briefly – offered a nod of thanks to God. Nothing deeply spiritual, nothing huge.
What had happened? Here’s what I believe. I believe that God wants to meet us in these small, routine, moments that make up our day-to-day lives. When we pay attention enough to observe that presence, then we find peace, we find hope, and we experience contentment. And those are key ingredients to what we understand as happiness.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:10-13